Valve officially released its China-specific version of Steam today. The storefront's launch doesn't exactly come as a surprise—Niko Partners senior analyst Daniel Ahmad predicted this version of Steam's debut last week—but its lack of content might. There are currently only 41 games (and 12 pieces of DLC) on the platform.
That number pales in comparison to the 48,615 titles listed by the U.S. version of Steam if you search for all of the games on the platform (to say nothing of all the DLC that accompanies those games). Valve explained the discrepancy between Steam and Steam China's wares via its Steamworks documentation for developers:
"A prerequisite to publishing games on Steam China is receiving Chinese government approval for your game. Upon receiving approval, the Chinese publisher of your title will be issued an ISBN number, which will be displayed on your Steam China product page. Please note this prerequisite does not apply to non-gaming applications, which can be directly self-published."
Chinese law also requires foreign businesses to work with a local company before they can operate in the country. Valve's partner for Steam China is Perfect World, which also helped bring DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive to China, and will be the go-to for Western publishers looking to release their games on Steam China.
It's not yet clear how publishers are expected to contact Perfect World about selling their games via Steam China, however, with Valve only saying that "more information will be available soon." We suspect that lack of information combined with the need for Chinese government approval will keep Steam China's numbers down for quite a while.
Steam China is also missing community features present in the international version of Steam. PCGamer reported that message forums are inaccessible, and we couldn't find any community features in the website navigation, either. It seems the only user content available on Steam China are reviews for the games themselves.
These limitations make Steam China a clear downgrade from the international version of Steam. There are fewer titles, harsher restrictions, and much less community content on the Chinese version of the platform. It's not clear why anyone would choose Steam China over Steam if they're given the option between them.
That choice is made even stranger by the fact that regular Steam is currently available in China. Ahmad said last week that "it remains to be seen whether China's government will block access to Steam International in the future," however, and the country's track record with foreign platforms suggests Steam proper might disappear soon.